Posted in Canaanites, Covenant, Ethics, Law, Wrath

Big Bad God or Are We Looking at Past Events Wrong?

My previous post was in many ways a bit redundant, as it is a carry-over of things I have discussed before.  However, my concern was establishing the right perspective in order to properly view things disclosed in the Old Testament.  Difficulty understanding certain biblical passages arises because of an incorrect outlook. Some examples we might point to would be: 1) being kicked out of the garden in Adam’s day, 2) the Flood in Noah’s day, 3) the plagues in Egypt or the Canaanite conquest during the period of Joshua and Judges.

Wrong viewpoints tend to pose various questions regarding biblical revelation.  Such as: “How can a loving God do those things?”; “Is the God of the O.T. the same as the one in the N.T., for His actions do not seem to line up with I understand God’s character to be?”; “If God is good, then how could He command such things?”

(In particular, the commands of God that calls for the entire destruction of whole groups of people including not just men and women but also children and animals. This shall be the primary focus of this article.)

Tacit Assumptions…

Pay attention to some of the tacit assumptions being smuggled in when such questions are posed, as a result of an improper perspective.

First, the questioner is presupposing that human beings are innocent.  However, we are not because we are sinners—that’s our identity before God.  Now that is not all of our identity, for we are also all image bearers of God, but our status before Him is guilty not innocent.

Second, the questioner is assuming that God is only good and loving.  However, He is not just those things; He is more.  God is defined as Holy (purity/separateness) from His creation in particular regarding sin which He hates.  God is defined as just meaning that He only does what is righteous (right), and therefore judges the motivations and activities of those He has created to reflect Him.  God is merciful, but He is also wrathful and as a result He delves out consistently what is deserved for all His rational creatures. There are many other attributes that could be described about God, but I am hoping you are beginning to get the picture.  God is more than love and goodness, He is perfect and as such no one defining attribute is properly demonstrated above another.  If you want to pick and choose which attributes of God you prefer to highlight (and some do this), then you are not describing the God of the Bible but an idol formed in your own heart/mind.

Third and finally, the questioner is assuming that they are in the position to determine the rightness or wrongness of the activity of God described in the Old/New Testaments. However, they (we) are afforded no such status in that we are creatures, not the Creator.  He is not in the dock, we are.

A proper exploratory question would be to ask, “Why did God call for the death of so many in the past, including not just men and women but also children and animals?”  I believe the answer is found in the fact that God is covenantal when dealing with His creation.  Ultimately, what the covenant establishes is life and death depending upon what position you (we) fall in regarding the covenant.

God created man (Adam) in a covenantal relationship with Him.  This is expressed in a variety of ways (check out God’s Covenant with Adam https://kristafal.wordpress.com/2019/04/05/gods-covenant-with-adam/; where I discuss this in more detail), but is particularly seen in the two trees in the midst of the garden.  One tree signified life and was accessible via obedience; the other tree signified death and was accessible via disobedience.  How Adam chose to respond in regards to the covenant that God had established had a lasting effect not only on him personally, but all his offspring.  Since Adam was given dominion—the right to rule in God’s name over all of earthly creation (Gen 1.26, 28)—when he sinned the consequential result was a cursed creation.  In other words, Adam was not the only one who suffered as a result of his transgressions for all of life under his headship suffered in the wake of his rebellion (comp. Gen 3.17-19; Rom 8.20-22; on a small scale restricted to the land of Israel see Isa 24.5-6).

Suppose you don’t like that. Some don’t.  What do you do by denying it? Well you deny the same sort of result from the opposite position in Jesus Christ.  I have heard some theology teachers deny that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.  Well, without delving into a rather deep theological debate I will just point out that if His righteousness is not imputed to us, if His holiness is not accredited to our bankrupt accounts, then we have no hope of eternal life.  Either Christ is our covenantal head and we are blessed by His obedience or we are left in a cursed sinful state with no hope of salvation/deliverance from the second death.  Human beings are not holy by any real or imaginary standard, and without such no one will be seen in the presence of God (Heb 12.14).

Getting back to God’s acts of wrathful judgment against sinful mankind…

Why did God destroy men, women, children, animals and the entire earth in the Flood of Noah’s day?  The short answer is that mankind’s dominion was in direct opposition to God.  Mankind (human beings if you prefer) was exceedingly wicked and rebellious and had hearts filled with violence (Gen 6.5, 11-12).  Violence against whom?  Ultimately against God, that’s who.

Yet, we read because of God’s merciful grace He preserved one man and through that one man all members of his household including his wife, their three sons and their wives, as well as all representative kinds of land dwelling animals.  The same reason God destroyed the many in Noah’s day is the same reason God saved the few.  God acts covenantally with His creatures and those who are covenantally faithful are blessed inheriting life; whereas those who do not are cursed inheriting death.

What the Law Reveals about our Status…

Now our disposition before God is not right.  We are not in a good spot when we stand before Him.  We are not innocent, which His Law demonstrates quite effectively.  I will use the summation that Jesus puts on God’s Law to demonstrate this: 1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; 2) Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is not one person who can make the claim (past, present or future) that they have fulfilled the entirety of these commands with absolute perfection.  Accordingly, one deviation, no matter how small, in God’s commandments reserves condemnation for the person(s) in question, for to break it at one point is to be guilty of all of it (James 2.10).

  • “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the Lord alone, shall be devoted to destruction” (Exod 22.20).1
    • NOTE: In case you were wondering offering a sacrifice to another, other than the Lord God is an act of worship. Accordingly, the entire human race since Adam has done this very thing and is therefore without excuse, fully deserving the entire wrath of God (cf. Rom 1.18-23). (This text will be helpful later when considering the question of “Who’s God’s anger against, false religion or the people who practice them?)

Dreaded Commands against the Canaanites…

Knowing this to be true, let us look at a couple references from Scripture that make ignorant believers blush.

  • “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittite, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them” (Deut 7.1-2; italics added).

–This same theme is taken up in Deut 20–

  • “But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded” (Deut 20.16-17; italics added).

These people were to be totally devoted to destruction.  This is an act of worship, an act of righteous retribution in the Name of God.  Christians like Paul Copan argue for a hyperbolic understanding of such passages.  In response to Deut 7:1-2 quoted above, Copan makes the following statement, “Earlier in Deuteronomy 7:2-5, we find…tension [in the text].2  On the one hand, God tells Israel that they should ‘defeat’ and ‘utterly destroy [haram]’ the Canaanites (v.2)—a holy consecration to destruction.  On the other hand, he immediately goes on to say…”3

  • “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.  But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire” (Deut 7.3-5; italics added).

Continuing with Copan’s thoughts, “If the Canaanites were to be completely obliterated, why this discussion about intermarriage or treaties?  The final verse emphasizes that the ultimate issues was religious: Israel was to destroy altars, images and sacred pillars.  In other words, destroying Canaanite religion was more important than destroying Canaanite people.”4 (The current writer is seen shaking his head at the kitchen table as he is typing on his laptop reading this ridiculous statement by a notable Christian scholar.)

What would help at this point is if Copan and others like him would merely compare Scripture with Scripture.  God has already stated that to offer worship to any other god (so-called) than He is to invite a death sentence (cf. Exod 22.20).  So then, why the talk of “intermarriage or treaties” in the Deuteronomic text?  Actually, this is not the first time God has warned His people to be careful not to do these things when they enter the land (see Exod 34.11-16; cf. Num 25.1-2).

Yes, but if God was really concerned about destroying all of these people, then why the warning? Copan seems to be making a pretty strong argument here.  The answer is simple, God has already told them that He would fight for them, that He would drive them from the land, but at the same time He also said He would not do it too quickly.  He gives at least two reasons for this:

  1. For the welfare of His people who He is giving the land to: “The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you” (Deut 7.22; italics added; cf. Exod 23.29-30).
  2. God left them there to teach the next generation war: “I will no longer drive out before them [Israel] any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not. So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua” (Judg 2.21-23).

Here’s the problem.  The reason that the Lord left the people in the land is because Israel was disobedient and did not follow God’s commands as He instructed (cf. Judg 2.1-20).  Therefore, they suffered negative sanctions as members of the covenant community.  They were handed over to their enemies as slaves as a result.

You see, God knows human hearts.  He knows our hearts better than we think we do.  Despite what seems to be our best motivations we are weak and powerless when faced with temptation, as we are always carried off by the desires of our heart.  “Always?” you ask.  Yes, unless God gives us sufficient strength to resist by His grace we will always fall flat in the muck and the mire.  We will be like a dog that returns to its vomit or a pig that corrals in the mud.

What should we see?

When you look back at Deut 7:1-5 what you should note is that God is saying two things at once.  On the one hand He is giving explicit instructions on what they are to do when they enter the land of Canaan.  They are not to pity their enemies, but to utterly destroy them. This would help ensure their safety from without (externally) and within (internally).  This command does not supersede the one formerly given in Exod 23:29-30 and then repeated in Deut 7:22 about not driving them out all at once lest the wild animals in the land over take them.  And those beasts would overtake them; if they did not obey the voice of the Lord, as that was one of the negative sanctions He promised them (cf. Lev 26.22; Deut 32.24).

Everything is to be done according to God’s timetable, not men.  We are to learn His scheduling of events (listening to His voice), rather than attempting to act like Sarah offering up Hagar to get God moving at a quicker, more convenient, humanly pace (cf. Gen 16.1-4; 21.12).

False Religion or the Practitioner?

Copan claims that God is more concerned by false religion than by false people, and that is why we should not read these commands as anything but hyperbole.  Uhm…false religion is not practiced in a vacuum.  By itself it is nothing.  False religion—its rites, forms and idols—are vacant lifeless things, unless people are found practicing them.

To say that God is concerned more about false religion than He is about the people practicing it ignores the many passages of Scripture that speak of God’s judgment against the people who do them.  The destruction of their idols was a physical/symbolic reminder of what ought not be done, unless one wants to die before a Holy God.

  • “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…” (Exod 20.5; Deut 5.9)
  • “…and [the Lord God] repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him.  He will repay him to his face” (Deut 7.10).
  • “You hand [God] will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you. You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear.  The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them” (Psa 21.8-9).

There are many such passages in Scripture and while some of the language may no doubt be symbolic, let us not be so arrogant to assume that God will allow anyone who hates Him to get away with their misdeeds.  Take for example King Agag.  Did he escape from the wrath of God?  Did he have to wait for eternity to feel the sharp fiery sword of God’s judgment?

Saul was commanded as prince over the people of God to attack the Amalekites and wipe them all out, women, children and livestock included.  Nothing was to remain of them, they were to be utterly destroyed—given to the Lord above.  Saul refused to obey God, and it was Samuel who took up the task of hacking that wicked King Agag to pieces (see 1Sam 15.1-33).

Back to the Heart of the Issue…

Dare we assume that any such individuals are innocent?  Is there an innocent man on the earth?  Is there any who do good?  Is there any who seek God rather than foolishly denying Him?  The Lord, says “No there is not one.  None can stand before Me.  None can claim his innocence.”

For if it were not for the grace of God in Jesus Christ applied by the power of the Holy Spirit there would not be one wretch that would be saved.

It is only when you understand our covenantal standing before God in Adam that you see we are all unworthy, all unrighteous, all full of the filth of sin.  What we should be asking is how does God tarry with us?  How can God stand the stench of us within His nostrils?  It is by the pleasing, overpowering aroma of Christ’s sacrifice that frees us from doom.  Even the unbelieving enjoy some measure of salvation in the fact that He allows them life, power and wealth in spite of their sin—their unbelief.5

But this is the true heart of the issue.  Due to our standing before a Holy God we live on this earth on borrowed time.  God, at any time in terms of righteousness and justice, has the right to end life.  Because of mankind’s status as His image bearers in covenantal apostasy, no life may claim innocence or innate goodness.  God destroyed whole groups of people (old and young) and their animals, and the very earth upon which they dwelt because of their rebellion against Him.  There is “none…righteous, no not one” (Rom 3.10), and so we have nothing to open our mouths about in opposition to these commands.

__________________________

ENDNOTES:

1 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2 Pay special attention to the term “tension” when you are reading a work on the Bible.  That is a catch word that reveals the writer’s disposition towards the biblical text.  Tension means apparent disagreement.  For the scholar that may be leaning towards errancy (i.e. mistakes, errors, or contradictions in Scripture) this is a key indicator of their underlying beliefs. A lot of neo-evangelical “experts” on the truth have a strong tendency in leaning in this direction.

3 Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), 172

4 Ibid, 173.

I don’t want to paint the picture that Copan is a total white-washed liberal.  As I said in a former post he does have some good things to say, and he is much smarter than I am in a lot of areas.  By way of example though, Copan does admit that the Canaanites were a vile, wicked people that practiced all sorts of immoral deeds (p. 159-60).  However, his concern is obvious to the reader.  He wants to protect God’s credibility, by showing that God is not a moral monster. Unfortunately, it also seems like he wants to make God more appealing to the Gerd Ludemann’s of the world by softening the message (the bite if you will) of God’s Word.

5  I want to clarify a distinction here that might not be readily apparent to the reader. What I refer to here is the common grace of God.  None deserve life, and yet it is the sacrificial Lamb of God that purchases even the reprobate a certain portion of this life.  It is true the chief concern here on God’s part are the people His Son has died for (that none of God’s elect should perish), but without Christ’s atoning work none of us would have a reason for living.  The life that all enjoy temporally is due to God’s predetermined plan in Jesus, but only those who are saved in Christ enjoy it eternally.

NOTE TO READER: Above Image by <a href=”https://pixabay.com/users/Free-Photos-242387/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=947331″>Free-Photos</a&gt; from <a href=”https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=947331″>Pixabay</a&gt;

Posted in Christian Perspective, Covenant, Sin, sinners, Theology

Proper Perspectives for Hard lessons…

All people sin. There is not a righteous person on the earth (1Kgs 8.46). The only one that ever existed in the history of human beings who did not sin is Jesus of Nazareth. That might not sound appealing to you. You may even want to say that I am exaggerating the truth a bit, but according to the Holy Triune God of the Bible that is the reality of how things truly are, and to take any other position regarding it is to call God a liar.

All are sinners and the evidence is that we all die. We are not sinners because we sin; rather we sin because we are sinners. Sinners is a noun, nouns describe a person, place or thing. Sinning (to commit sin) on the other hand is a verb; verbs describe the activity of the subject in question. There are stative verbs, verbs that identity a state of being, but when the Bible describes humanity as sinners, and then attributes to our good works as dirty menstruation rags fit to be cast out as they bear the fruit of death (Isa 64.6), the point being blatantly made is that our state of being is that of a sinner—it is who we are as fallen creatures—and the result of our state of being is that we sin. Death is the wages of sin, because sin can only produce death. Living in sin is living in death; because that is the only possible outcome since as sinners we are separated from the Lord of Life.

This is the direct result of Adam’s transgression in the garden. This is what he purchased (gave to) all his offspring. Again, this point is stressed in Scripture (cf. Rom 5.12-21; 1Cor 15.21-22). What happened in the garden is that Adam apostatized from the covenant that God had established with man when he created him (them). Through Adam the human race (his offspring) became covenant-breaker’s—i.e. apostate’s.

Death as Biblically Defined…

If you are not a part of the True Vine, you wither and die. There are those who will argue that true death did not occur in the Garden of Eden. They take a naturalistic view of death as the true definition of death, but the Bible does not describe death in that fashion. Death is also referred to as separation. Being separated from something like the body, righteousness/sin, or ultimately God.

For example, we are told that when we die our spirit returns to the One who created it (Eccl 12.7). The spirit within this earthen vessel returns to its Maker for judgment (Heb 9.27). The physical body returns to dust; to the very earth it was taken from (Gen 3.19b). **The reason we return to dust (body’s die being separated from the spirit that sustains them) is because human beings in Adam have been separated from the life of God.

And yet, we are also told that there will come a time when all human beings’ lives will be weighed in the balance (not just temporally, but eternally). The scales will either be tipped in our favor or against it. The determining factor is whether (or not) we reside in Jesus the Christ (Rev 2.11; 20.6). For those who do not their inheritance is eternal death—i.e. separation from the goodness of God for all eternity; the lake of fire. The lake of fire (final judgment of the unrepentant not found in Christ) is rightly called the 2nd death or lasting/final death (Rev 20.14; 21.8).

The in-between that I have not discussed is another instance of death. In Romans 6 Paul effectively argues that those who are in Christ have died in Him and have been raised to new life. What the Scriptures refer to as a heart transplant (spiritual) in other places where the heart of stone is removed, and then replaced with a heart of flesh (Jer 32.39; Ezek 11.19-20; 36.26; Heb 8.10; 10.16-17). This the Holy Spirit does for many, but not all. When this transaction takes place, Paul says we have just witnessed the death of sin in the life of believers. We are no longer slaves to that former dominion, but are now transferred to slaves of righteousness. As I noted earlier this does not mean that we no longer sin, but our desires because of a new disposition gained by a new heart (spiritual bent) have effectively been changed. We have died to sin, to live in righteousness. This circumcision of the heart as it is also called is true death according to the Bible, but it is not naturalistic.

Seeing the Relational Connection…

Why is that important? Do you not see the connection? Are you purposefully closing your eyes so that you cannot see it and then can willfully deny it? It should be obvious…

The reason that should strike a cord in our minds is because the exact opposite occurred in Genesis 3. You say that Adam (and Eve) did not truly die, but God says that they did. “For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2.17). Some make a big deal about the fact that the words here repeat death in Hebrew so that it literally reads, “a death thou shalt die; or, dying you shalt die,”1 but the point is merely being emphatically stressed that death will result the very day this tree’s fruit is eaten. From the moment of Adam’s transgression (note the stress is on Adam in the Bible because he was the representative head of his wife and his children through him)—his apostacy—he died. He was separated from the life of God, his spiritual tie that originally bound him to the Lord was severed and this is evidenced by him and his wife’s behavior immediately after the deed was finalized.

Therefore, through Adam we have all become covenant-breakers. In a very real sense, we have been born in this world as apostates of the original covenant that God established with our forefather. We did not ask for this status, but we did inherit it.

Some may decry the unfairness of God’s judgment in this. “How can I be held accountable for Adam’s sin?” The answer is “You’re not. You are held accountable for your sin.” But then you say, “Yes, but doesn’t the Bible teach we are all condemned in Adam (cf. Rom 5.16, 18)?” The answer is “Yes, it does. However, the condemnation is judgment already past. The result or consequence being that in Adam we all die because we are all separated from the life of God. The resulting bent in the human heart is now in opposition to God. Thus, a new birth is necessary to have communion/fellowship/life with God (cf. John 3).

Proper Perspectives for Hard Lessons…

Why trudge on well beaten paths? Because, if we are going to understand properly the commands by God that seem to some cruel beyond measure in the O.T. we need the proper lens through which to view them. When individuals read or hear about the accounts of the Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the devastation of Egypt and Canaan, or one that really baffles the minds of some which I shall revel later, then our assumptions/presuppositions needs to be checked at the door.

Human beings are not described as good, but evil. We are not described as free, but slaves. We are not described as seeing, but blind. We are not described as living, but dead. Nor are we described as innocent, but guilty. Human beings are not neutral towards God, but it is written that they hate him. Therefore, with those precursors in place, I am hoping that you are prepared to properly digest what comes next…

Not everything that God’s commands are for the good of all people, but only for those who love Him (Rom 8.28). God does not always command that which is beneficial towards humanity, but is always beneficial to Him so that He alone receives the Glory owed to Him….:

“To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Rom 16.27; ESV).

____________________________

ENDNOTES:

1
Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible (published 1810-1826), Gen 2.17. Clarke was an Arminian minister/theologian that was an expert in multiple ancient languages. I chose him primarily to show that this is an orthodox understanding of this text. Despite the claim often said that this is just the Calvinistic understanding. For Clarke also states in his notes that this declaration of God is not limited to physical dying, but spiritual death: “Thou shalt not only die spiritually, by losing the life of God, but from the moment though shalt become mortal and shalt continue in a dying state till thou die…Other meanings have been given of this passage, but they are in general either fanciful or incorrect.”

Posted in Beliefs, Covenant, gospel, Headship, Law, Salvation, Theology

Law and Gospel Distinct, but not Opposed

“You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord” (Lev 18.4-5; emphasis added).1

As I was traveling home one day after work I flipped on a Christian AM radio broadcast out of Columbus, OH, and the host at the time (a retired minister) gave some very good advice. He said, “The devil is in the extremes.” His point is that straying to the left or the right gets us off the path that God intends for us to walk.

What I have found over the better part of a decade in preaching ministry is that Christians seem to either tip to one side of the other when it comes to God’s Law-Word. Either they get really nervous and begin to think you’re bordering on heretical teaching when you start speaking of the Law of God as a requirement; or, they embrace the Law in such a fashion that their obedience to it is what saves them, not Christ. Both positions are false.

The Law and the Gospel are distinct, but they are in no way in opposition with one another.

The Law of God is always placed before mankind in covenantal status. All people have a covenantal status with God. They are either covenant-keepers or covenant-breakers. We must not view the Law of God as given outside of the covenant.

When Adam sinned he did so as a creature in covenant with his Creator God. As the first man God placed upon him the responsibility of the human race. The command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1.28) was not fulfilled until after the testing period in the garden in Eden (Gen 3). Adam named his wife Eve because she was to be the mother of all living; this took place after the Fall. It was Adam’s response to the Law-Word of God that determined the outcome for his progeny. His choice of acknowledging and submitting to the authority of God’s Word alone determined the type of inheritance he was purchasing for his children. This is true because Adam was stationed as the head of humanity by God, his obedience or transgression would have lasting consequences on all his children.

Rather than listening to the voice of God, Adam chose to listen to the voice of a fellow creature (his wife) and his own heart (he made his own choice, no one made him do it)—Gen 3:12, 17. This act of rebellion against the Creator earned Adam and his children after him the position of being covenant-breakers. In the language of the apostle Paul we read that it was Adam’s transgression that ushered “sin…into the world… and death through sin” and this “spread to all men [i.e. people] because all sinned” (Rom 5.12. In short, Adam’s trespass brought condemnation to all men for through him all his children became sinners (cf. Rom 5.16-20). Which means that in Adam our covenantal relationship with God is broken, but the standard NEVER changed!

The problem is not the Law of God.

How could it be when God’s Law is described as holy, good and spiritual (cf. Rom 7.12, 14)? What then is the problem? The problem is found in our hearts and minds. For what impure thing could ever come from the Holy God when it is man that is declared impure (cf. Job 9.2; 25.4)? The promise given to Adam was that if he did well, he would live (cf. Gen 2.16-17).2 The same promise is what we see given in the Leviticus 18:4-5 passage quoted above. The promise is that if we do what is good we will live—”the person who does them shall live by them.”

There is a problem, however, that arises. Just one infraction against the Law of God on one point is to be guilty of breaking all of it. As James the apostle explains to the Christians he is writing to in the first century demonstrates:

  • “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (Jam 2.10; cf. Deut 27.26).

The truth of the matter is this, “without [holiness] no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12.4; HCSB). Perfect obedience to the Law of God equals eternal life. If you do all that the Law instructs you, life is promised. If you are able to do this you will be (not strive to be—you will be) “perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5.48).

Yet it is here where we identify the root problem. Human beings fail to do this very thing:

  • “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God [why?], for it does not submit to God’s law [why?]; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8.7-8).3

Pay attention to the word “cannot” for it adds greater depth to the phrase “does not” before it. The reason the natural person (the way they are born into this world) “does not” keep the Law of God, the Holy Spirit says through Paul, is because he/she “cannot”—they (we) are unable to do so. This text reveals our own inability as human beings to follow the instructional voice of God because of (due to) our natural hostility to the Lord. God speaks and people by their very nature rebel. The commandment of God comes and we are appalled. Not only do we not keep the Law of God because we do not want to, we do not want to because we are not able.

This is the foundation of why it is said that when man is confronted with the Law of God our mouths are shut. We have nothing to boast in, because we are by nature rebels at heart. We demonstrate that we are covenant-breakers rather than covenant-keepers at every point in response to God’s Law-Word:

  • “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God [why?]. For the works of the law no human being will be justified in his [God’s] sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3.19-20; emphasis added).

The Holy Scriptures are adamant on this point; the Law of God proves that we are sinners. The Law of God which promises life to those who obey all of it brings forth condemnation to the whole human race because of our inability to keep it.

The reason this is important is…?

We need to understand our current relationship as God’s creatures. Our internal relationship towards God will determine our internal/external reaction to Gods Law-Word. In Adam we are all covenant-breakers; that’s our status. In Christ people become covenant-keepers; that’s the new status, not because of what we do, but only because of what He has done as our representative head.

Jesus obeyed the Law of God perfectly. He never sinned. Therefore, his life of holiness is what enables God to remain both just and the justifier; giving to the offspring of Christ the status through inheritance that He alone enjoyed—i.e. Holiness leading to life; eternally.

  • “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2Cor 5.17-18).

Why does the Bible say this?

Our standing before God as covenant-keepers has been changed, by what Christ’s life purchased on our behalf.

  • “For our sake he made him…” Who made who? God the Father made the Son… “to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor 5.21).
  • “He himself bore our sins in his body on a tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1Pet 2.24).

Righteousness speaks of living-rightly; something we in Adam are incapable of doing as the Law of God demonstrates. Holiness speaks of being separated from sin, purity; something we in Adam are incapable of having as the Law of God demonstrates. And in that state we will never see the Lord (Heb 12.14).

The standard of righteousness and holiness did not change when Adam fell. The requirement still stands:

  • “The one who does them [i.e. obedience to the Law] shall live by them [i.e. promise to continue living]” (Gal 3.12; emphasis added; cf. v.10).

But, we “don’t” and we “can’t” obey the Law of God that is our condition as covenant-breakers, and so…

  • “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the [nations; peoples]4, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gen 3.13-14).

**This is the gospel of God.

The Law and gospel are distinct, but they are not opposed to one another.

The standard of God for righteousness and holiness did not change when in Adam we all became covenant-breakers (i.e. sinners). However, due to our unwillingness and inability to do what is right so that we might live, the Father sent the Son into the world to save His people from their sins (cf. Matt 1.21). This transaction by God the Father on account of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit changed our status before God as covenant-keepers. Jesus became our new head replacing the former one (cf. 1Cor 11.3; 15.22).

With these things in mind—having set the stage so to speak—I want to speak on a few things related to the Law of God and the misunderstandings in terms of the supposed “harshness” or “awfulness” regarding it that I touched on when examining some philosopher’s arguments not long ago. Until then, God bless.

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ENDNOTES:

1 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2 All of God’s Laws have both a positive and negative aspect attributed to them. These are not always stated, but are implied. For example, the commandment not to steal means to enjoy the property that God has provided you. The commandment not to murder means to cherish and protect the life given by God to mankind. The command not to covet what is your neighbors means to covet (desire) that which God has provided you and what God alone can give which leads to contentment. Unfortunately, we do not take the time to mull over all the implications of the Law of God and so, as a result, we miss the full scope of the goodness that God has given us.

3 If you want to know why Paul reaches this conclusion, or if you are confused as to what it means to be “in the flesh,” I would suggest that you go back and read the chapters that lead up to this categorical statement. The scope of this post does not permit me to delve into it. If you would like my reasoning, feel free to ask and I will attempt to respond in a reasonable time frame.

4 The Greek term is “ethnos” which is defined as in a variety of ways, but carries the generalized meaning of nation or people groups. In the O.T. the concept regarded all “foreign nations not worshiping the true God….” Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001. Paul’s point here is that what Christ did fulfilled the promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations (cf. Gen 17.4). These true offspring of Abraham were not physical descendants, but children of the promise which is Paul’s argument throughout the Galatian epistle. As seen in Gal 4 and the argument given in regards to Isaac and Ishmael.

Posted in Covenant, dominion, Genesis 1-3, gospel, Grace, Theology

God’s Covenant with Adam

Today, I want to take what we learned about the five-point covenantal outline found (used) in Scripture and apply it to God’s covenantal relationship with Adam. This is often denoted the Covenant of Works by Reformed theologians and other orthodox teachers of the past. Some deny that there ever was a covenant between God and Adam due to the lack of “I will make a covenant with you…” type language, but this is an unfortunate misunderstanding. God did not say to Adam, “I will make a covenant with you…,” at least that we can know of. Rather, God created the first man in a covenantal relationship with Him. The entirety of Scripture confirms that God is a covenantal God, and so it would be an error on our part to assume that the concept of “covenant” came later as almost an afterthought.

As way of reminder the five-point covenant outline disclosed by Ray R. Sutton1 is as follows:

  1. Transcendence/immanence—God is distinct (transcendent) from His creation and yet personally present (immanence).
  2. Hierarchy/Representation—God is the ultimate authority as Creator (hierarchy) and He has created Image Bearers to Mirror Him (representation).
  3. Ethics/Law—God has the right to set the standard of how His creatures ought to live (Ethics), and He has established these moral precepts (Laws) which reflect His Holy heart.
  4. Sanctions/Blessing or Cursing—God as Judge with execute judgment (sanctions), giving good (blessing) to the obedient and bad (cursing) to the disobedient creatures He has made.
  5. Continuity/Inheritance—God promises either life or death (continuity), and our reaction to our Creator affects our future (inheritance) both temporally and eternally.

While, I find the above helpful I think that seeing them in question format makes it a bit easier to see their logical layout:

  1. Who is God?
  2. Who represents God?
  3. What are God’s laws?
  4. What are His sanctions?
  5. Who will inherit?2

What we find in the opening chapter of Genesis is that everyone of these points is touched upon.

Point One—Who is God? The Transcendent Personal Creator God

The Bible does not attempt to prove God, but assumes Him from the very first verse: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen1.1).3 Here we find point one answered, God is the Creator of all things. He transcends His creation because He is distinct from it. He is not a part of creation in a pantheistic sense for He spoke it into existence (cf. Gen 1.3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26; Psa 33.6, 9; 148.5).

And yet, we find that God not only transcends His creation, He shares a personal affinity towards it (immanence); part 2 of point 1. He is directly involved with it personally. This is demonstrated in a variety of ways. First, He puts His personal blessings on everything He made. When the Lord made the creatures of the air, land and sea He blessed them, gave them food and told them to be fruitful and multiply (cf. Gen 1.22, 29-30). Secondly, we find this personal aspect of God’s interaction with His creation in the forming of Adam.

First we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man…So God created man…male and female he created them. And God blessed them.” (Gen 1.26a, 27a & c, 28a). In Genesis 2 we are given more details regarding this creative act of God in making man on day 6 of creation.

“Then the Lord God formed the man of the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen 2.7). Catch this, the Lord not only formed the man from the very clay of this earth (the potted vessel), but He then breathes into this man the breath of life making this new creature of dirt a living being. Life, precious life comes from God, but the Lord is not done yet.

In the very next verse we read that “the Lord God [had] planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden…” (Gen 2.8-9a).

Again, we find the personal tenderness and care of this Creator God who though He is distinct (transcendent) from His creation, He goes to great lengths to make His presence known to His creatures in the way that He provides for them (life, blessing and purpose); and as we shall see in a bit, in the way He instructs them. God who created everything “very good” (Gen 1.31) took the man who He made last—distinct from all other life on the planet—and placed this man in a garden in Eden. The man’s own private sanctuary of joy and beauty, where he was to be reminded, and in light of this reminder, enjoys his Creator.

Point Two—Who represents God? God the Chief Hierarch and man His representative

Just as the Bible assumes the Triune God of creation, so too is His authority presupposed. “The Lord is high above all nations and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” (Psa 113.4-6). “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers…[for] Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales” (Isa 44.22, 15).

The Scriptures describe God as above all things and all other things (His own creation) as nothing. He alone has ultimate authority over all things. He alone is to be praised.

Yet, we find that God has established man as His representative. Not only did the Lord God create man in the beginning, but He made the man to mirror Him in all of life, giving him authority to rule over lesser creatures.

  • “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living that moves on the earth” (Gen 1.26-28).

The dominion or rule that God has given the man is to be done in a reflective manner after the Creator who created him (and her). Both genders, male and female, are the image bearers of God. They are both given the responsibility of displaying God’s likeness to the rest of creation. The subduing of the earth (v.28) and the dominion over the earth (v.26) is to be done in a godly fashion. Man was not created as an independent being, but a dependent creature. Much like a baby in the womb is dependent upon her mother via the umbilical cord, so too is the man and woman of God (His possession) to be so plugged into Him (i.e. dependency).

Point Three—What are God’s Laws? God’s Law/Ethics, His Instruction sets the Moral boundaries of His creatures

Because God has authority over mankind as the Transcendent Creator, and due to the fact that God has made mankind to image Him in the rest of creation, God necessarily sets the rules/codes of conduct. In short, God tells human beings how to think and live (act). We see this in the early details of Genesis 1-2.

God commands the man to be fruitful and multiple. They are to form family units and have babies in order to fill the earth (v.28). One of the things that ought to strike our attention is the detailed plot line in Genesis 2.

God formed the man first, and then the Lord began to bring various animals to the man on the sixth day, to see what he would name them. This was not pet naming as we do with cats and dogs, but classifying animals within their various kinds based upon their characteristics. God doesn’t do anything without a purpose behind it; so what’s the purpose here?

God knows things that His creatures do not—God is omniscient—and one of the things He knows early on day sixth is that “it is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper fit for him” (Gen 2.18). As Adam is naming the animals he no doubt notices that they have two genders, male and female. They have equal counterparts, but not so for him. Thus we are told in Gen 2:20, “But for Adam there was not a helper fit for him.” Adam learned this through God’s object lesson.

Therefore, once the lesson has sunk in the Lord performs the first surgery in history. He puts Adam into a deep sleep (by the way this is why/how anesthesia was invented) and takes some meat and bone from his side (Gen 2.21). From that flesh and bone the Lord forms the woman, and then after Adam is awake brings her to the man (Gen 2.22).

Notice Adam’s response: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen 2.23). In other words, Adam was so excited by this new gift of the Lord—a helper comparable to him—that he said “Woooo-man!” (Sorry, couldn’t resist a little humor here). In short, Adam learned what God already knew; God is seen forming Adam’s thinking, helping him determine what is good.

God also tells the man that he was created to work. He is given instruction (command/law) “to work it and keep” the creation given to him. Yes, it is, in a word, a paradise, but this is not a Sandal’s Resort. Adam cannot lazily lounge by the river drinking from a glass with an umbrella in it; he has been instructed to work, to exercise dominion (cf. Gen 1.26, 28). By the way, part of that instruction from the Lord in guarding (“keeping” means to build a hedge around it) what has been entrusted to him, is properly teaching and protecting his wife. Which, he does a poor job of doing as we see in Genesis 3.

The Lord also tells Adam what he is allowed to eat, and what he is not. Genesis 1:29-30 tells us that God gave all plant life for food. In Genesis 2:9 we see that God has created a wonderful orchard from which the man and woman may enjoy. However, in the middle of the garden the Lord put a “NO-TRESSPASSING” sign on one tree—The Tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2.9b). “This tree,” said the Lord “is off limits. You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2.16b-17).

This particular tree did not have “special knowledge,” and no the man did not need to eat of it in order “to learn” what was good and bad. That knowledge had already been established when God said “No!” This law of God established the boundary line of what was “good and evil,” as in all the other thing that God had been doing this instruction was given in order to teach the man and woman how to think and act. They were God’s representatives, not their own.

Point Four—What are God’s Sanctions? God Blesses Obedience and Curses Disobedience

God is judge: “I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work” (Eccl 3.17). And, as judge God rewards faithfulness to His Law-Word, but promises negative acts of retribution to those who are unfaithful.

As long as Adam was obedient to the Law-Word of God he was promised Life. The other tree in the middle of the garden was the Tree of Life (Gen 2.9). Adam and his wife were not prohibited from eating from this tree.

If you remember in my last post I pointed out that the those in covenant with God in the O.T./N.T. (via circumcision/baptism), were allowed to eat at the table of the Lord. Both tables (Passover and Eucharist) symbolize life and blessing to the faithful. However, they also symbolize death and cursing. To attempt to partake of the Lords table in an unholy fashion promised separation from the goodness of God (cf. 1Cor 11.27-32).

Adam disobeyed the voice of the Lord. He disregarded the commands/instruction/law of his Creator, instead turning inwardly to the creature. He allowed the serpent to deceive his wife, he allowed his wife to coerce him to go against what he knew to be true, and in so doing he purposefully and willfully rebelled against his Creator in whose image he was made (cf. Gen 3.1-7; 17-19). The consequence is that the earth was cursed (Gen 3.17; Rom 8.19-22) as signified by “thorns and thistles” (Gen 2.18), and the days of man’s existence will be painful labor where eventually the body will waste away and return to the dust from which it came (Gen 3.19).

Point Five—Who will inherit? God Promises Temporal and Eternal Inheritances in light of one’s Reaction towards Him

The final judgment that day was being kicked out of the garden (cherubim were placed guarding it) and access was denied to the Tree of Life (Gen 3.22-24). That was the inheritance that Adam bought for his offspring. This is why Paul later says that all human beings in Adam were condemned as sinners (Rom 5.12, 18-19) and are therefore “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2.3; italics added). The Greek term for nature4 Paul uses here in his Ephesian letter, describing the fate of all mankind means by “birth, physical origin.” Therefore, we “were [born] dead in…trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1). Adam’s sin purchased death (separation) from God. The umbilical cord, so to speak, was severed by his transgression, and as the representative head of the human race we are born into this world in that state.

Closing Remarks…

The good-news is found in the grace of God. Adam could not cover (atone) for his transgression, but God could. This image of covering is displayed in Genesis 3:21 when “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” They attempted to cover (atone; clothe) their nakedness (Hebrew for sin/shame) in Genesis 3:7, but what they couldn’t do for themselves the Lord did for them. Why? Because of the promise He gave in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity [hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This has nothing to do with fear of snakes, that’s just foolish superstitious belief, but it has everything to do with God’s promise to redeem and ransom and regenerate fallen mankind in Jesus Christ.

All in Christ receive eternal life (Matt 19.29; Rom 6.23) having been adopted back as God’s children (John 1.12-13; Rom 8.15; Gal 4.5). Every one of the points above is found demonstrated in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the God-Man. He acknowledged God as Creator (He knew His Father; cf. Luke 10.22; John 10.15), and He acknowledged God’s authority (John 8.28; 12.49) and therefore
perfectly imaged Him in all creation (cf. Col 1.15;Heb 1.3) by doing all that the Father commanded Him (cf. Matt 5.17; John 14.31; Heb 5.8) He was richly blessed (cf. Rom 9.5; also see Isa 9.6-7; Dan 7.13-14) and inherited for His offspring an unfailing inheritance (cf. 1Pet 1.4).

I have more to say, but your eyes need a rest…until next time.

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ENDNOTES:

1 Outline points taken from: Ray R. Sutton, That You May Prosper: Dominion by Covenant, 3rd Printing (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, [1987], 1997).

2 Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), 92.

2 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

4 5449
φύσις [phusis /foo·sis/] n f. Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001.

Posted in Covenant

Understanding the Difference between Covenant and Salvation in order to Avoid Conflation

God is a covenantal God, but what does that mean? Is there a difference between covenant and salvation? Can a person be a member of the covenant community and yet still not be saved; a true believer? More often than not, I find that Christians will often conflate the two terms covenant and salvation, as if the two words meant the same thing. From this a skewed understanding ensues in regards to many of the conditional statements made in the Bible—i.e. the “if,” “then” clause or syllogism.

For example, a person reading the O.T. may look at God’s comments to Israel in Exodus 19 and think that people were saved differently during that dispensation than in the newer dispensation’s covenant.1

  • “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19.5-6).2

There is a similar use of wording found in Deuteronomy at the head of the blessing and cursing portion of that book:

  • “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth” (Deut 28.1).

The implications from both portions of the Pentateuch are in essence the same. “If” you do this, “then” this will be the case. The emphasis in both passages is placed upon obedience to the Word of God; His Law-Word. That is the “if” clause. These verses do not attribute ability to the recipients (i.e. participants), but rather illustrate that necessary condition in order for the second half of the syllogism to be true. As in Exodus 19 “If” it is true that you obey the voice and God and keep His covenant with Him, “then” it is true that you will be “my treasured possession among all peoples;” “then” you will be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Or in Deut 28 “if” it is true that you listen to God by keeping “all his commandments,” “then” it is true that your stature will be “above all the nations of the earth.”

Failure by members of the covenant community to obey the voice of the Lord and honor the covenantal agreement between them will negate the possibility of the “then” statements being true. Therefore, the apostle Paul could rightly state later in history that not everyone born of Israel was really Israel, nor was everyone a Jew truly a Jew (Rom 9.6-7; 2.29). What determined that was whether or not the individuals’ in question had the faith of Abraham—that is to say the heart disposition of Abraham—evidenced by genuine obedience to the Law-Word of God (Rom 4.16; John 8.39-40).

True obedience is not identified by outward observances, but inward motivations. Those “actions” of the heart were not always readily identifiable by members of the covenant community, and so in an ultimate sense it was left to God to judge and determine the hearts of those in question (cf. Jer 17.10). That being said, to purposefully disregard the covenantal obligations would earn the unrepentant individual the reward of being “cut-off” from the covenantal community.

Now what’s interesting is that we see this same sort of “If, then” talk by Jesus in the N.T. On more than one occasion Jesus points out to His followers that if they would truly be His disciples that they need abide by His Word—that is to be obedient (cf. John 8.31-32). Some, because Jesus disregarded the oral traditions/laws of the rabbis, assumed that Jesus was setting up some new Law system that His followers were to abide by. Unfortunately, there have been those within certain Christian circles that have taken a similar approach and wrongly interpreted the Lord’s teaching on the Mount (cf. Matt 5-7; Luke 6). However, if we pay careful attention to Jesus words at that time we find that he immediately sought to squash such a misunderstanding.

  • Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill [i.e. uphold] them” (Matt 5.17; italics added).

Jesus is adamant in this verse that doing away with God’s Law-Word is not what He came to do nor what He did. Rather, He upheld the Law of God by faith the very same thing that we are taught to do (cf. Rom 3.31). Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised to see that Jesus uses the same form of language that we find in the Exodus and Deuteronomy when he says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14.15). He then reiterates this to his disciples in John 15:10, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” The “then” is not explicit, but implied. What is interesting is that this follows His discussion on Him being the True Vine (John 15.1).

Commentators often note that Jesus is offering Himself in contrast to Israel, for Israel in the past had been identified as the vine in numerous O.T. passages (e.g. Psa 80.8; Isa 5.1-7; Jer 2.2; Hos 10.1). Jesus explains that His father being the vinedresser (v. 1) will tend the vine in order to keep it healthy. He will prune where necessary, removing those branches that do not bear fruit (v. 2). Those that bear good fruit will be blessed; those that do not will be cursed. Those that do will be identified as those that remain in Jesus (v. 5), but those that do not will be cut-off and thrown away into the fire (v. 6). Good fruit versus bad fruit is the comparison between that which is obedient to Christ’s commandments and those that are not (this is why we find these statements sandwiched in-between John 14.10, 15.10). The branches that listen to (obey) God’s Law-Word are those that are seen abiding in Christ and honoring the Father (vv. 7-8). Some mistake this language as proof of being able to lose one’s salvation, but this is not a discussion over salvation; rather, it is a discussion over covenantal faithfulness.

You see, a person can be apart of the covenantal community and yet not be saved. As I said earlier, people often conflate the meaning of the two—covenant and salvation—but they are not the same thing. To be sure they share a relationship, but they are not synonymous terms.

What is a covenant?

A covenant is a binding oath between two parties. Some often refer to a covenant as being “cut” this in reference to what we witness in Genesis 15 where Abraham is instructed to cut a variety of sacrificial animals in half and then a flaming pot (which symbolizes the Lord God) passes between them as Abraham is in a deep sleep (cf. Gen 15.9-18). The hewn animals serve as a reminder of the seriousness of the oath. To break it means death, to be hacked apart. God being a covenantal God always deals with mankind (His creature) in terms of covenant. It is not an equal party pact, for one party is above the other. Biblical covenants highlight the Creator vs. creature distinction; or divide.

Perhaps the best work that I have read regarding biblical covenants is Ray R. Sutton’s work entitled “That You May Prosper.”3 In this book he outlines what he discovered in his studies regarding the biblical covenant; a five-point covenantal system which forms the outline for the book of Deuteronomy, the Ten Commandments, etc. Here are those five biblical elements of the type of covenant the Bible teaches:

  1. Transcendence/immanence—God is distinct (transcendent) from His creation and yet personally present (immanence).
  2. Hierarchy/Representation—God is the ultimate authority as Creator (hierarchy) and He has created Image Bearers to Mirror Him (representation).
  3. Ethics/Law—God has the right to set the standard of how His creatures ought to live (Ethics), and He has established these moral precepts (Laws) which reflect His Holy heart.
  4. Sanctions/Blessing or Cursing—God as Judge with execute judgment (sanctions), giving good (blessing) to the obedient and bad (cursing) to the disobedient creatures He has made.
  5. Continuity/Inheritance—God promises either life or death (continuity), and our reaction to our Creator affects our future (inheritance) both temporally and eternally.

**Although, it is tempting to disclose how this covenant model is seen in the early chapters of Genesis, I will pass that opportunity for now in order to address the true point of this post.

What’s the difference between covenant and salvation?

For starters, a person may be a member of the covenant community and not be saved (this I said earlier, but it bears repeating). And yet, the converse reality is that a person cannot be saved and not part of the covenant community. How so? Allow me to explain.

The difference is that anyone can join (become a member) of the covenantal community (externally speaking). All they have to do is be willing to go through the rites of passage.

In the O.T. what was required to become a member of the covenant community?

The first rite of passage was circumcision. God gave to Abraham this seal (sign, symbol) of the covenant. In order to be a member of the covenantal family, one needed to be circumcised (obviously this only applied to males, but females were grafted in under the patriarchal head):

  • “And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you” (Gen 17.9-11; italics added).

This sign was accessible to any who entered the household of Abraham, be they natural born or foreigner (cf. Gen 17.12-13). This important to know because of the failure of some to understand that the “grafting” in process has always been intended by God. While, it is true He has set Abraham aside and his offspring after him, those counted as members of his household (i.e. offspring) was not limited to those naturally born. My only point is that this was not a new teaching when Paul later expounds on it in his letter to the Galatians (cf. 3:16, 29; 4:22-31).

The second rite of passage is the covenantal meal. After God promises the covenant with Abraham with the sign of circumcision, the Lord then appears to him with two others (angels). In this encounter, Abraham has a meal prepared and breaks bread with the Lord—a sign of fellowship (Gen 18.1-8). This predates the meal that the Lord prepares for Abraham’s offspring in the book of Exodus; the Passover (see Exod 12). The Passover, like circumcision, is a sign of union with God but it also signifies more than that; for it is a sign of life.

Just as the old flesh was cut off (circumcised) in order to be in covenantal relationship with God the Passover served as a sign of God giving new life to those in covenant with Him. Only those who had been circumcised in their flesh could participate in this feast that the Lord had prepared for His people (cf. Exod 12.43-46); for it was designated for “all the congregation of Israel…[to] keep it” (Exod 12.47). And yet, we find that God does make a provision for the foreigner who wants to share in this meal of blessing (of life):

  • “If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it” (Exod 12.48; italics added).

Again, we see the grafting in principle that I mentioned earlier. God considered foreigners who participated in the rite of circumcision as members of the covenant community; as a child of Israel.

In the N.T. what was required to become a member of the covenant community?

As with the past, we find that God’s making new does not mean He starts from scratch, but rather improves what was insufficient. The first rite of the New Covenant is baptism, which according to the apostle Paul is true circumcision (perfecting of that which was imperfect; a shadowy type):

  • “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Rom 2.28-29).
  • “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal 6.15).
  • “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col 2.11-12; cf. 1Pet 3.21).

By being baptized one identifies with Christ and becomes a member of that covenant community. The result is that this person then gains access to the second rite of the New Covenant, the Lord’s Supper. Which likewise replaced the former rite (Passover) in that rather than a lamb being slain and its blood applied to the door frame of the home, the Lamb of God has been slain and His blood has been applied to the heart of the believer. The Lord’s Supper (a.k.a. communion/Eucharist), like the Passover, signifies the individual’s transference from death to life.

Why being a member of the covenant does not equate salvation.

In both instances, O.T. and N.T. a person could perform the entrance rite into the covenant community (circumcision or baptism) and partake the meal that the Lord has provided (Passover or Communion/Eucharist), and still not be a believer. All one has to do is read through the Pentateuch, books of History and the Prophets to see that not every member of the Old Covenant were truly believers in God. One glaring instance is that found in the book of Numbers when the people are given the opportunity to take what God has promised them and they balk; they rebel. The reason was that the majority of those who rebelled against God and yearned for Egypt had no faith, a point the writer of Hebrews drives home to his audience (cf. Heb 4.2 compare Numb 14.33). Similarly, we find that Judas Iscariot participated in the covenantal meal with the Lord, drinking from the cup of the covenant and eating the dipped bread, and yet he betrayed the One he professed loyalty to that very night.4

Just because someone professes loyalty and faith in God, in Christ, and thereby becomes a member of the covenant community does not mean that they are genuinely saved. Several, Jesus says will say to Him “Lord, Lord” (Matt 7.21; cf. 13.18-22), but will have no part of Him. Keep in mind that these are members of the community, but are not saved. The only way to identify such people is by their fruit. Is it good or bad? How do we know if we do not have an objective standard to appeal to? We do, it is the Law-Word of God. This is Jesus’ point in John 15, and it is the point He has already taught Israel in the past in the Pentateuch. When we fail to understand the biblical covenant conflating it with salvation, we end up drawing wrong conclusions about a lot of things.

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ENDNOTES:

1 It should be noted to the reader that I use the term “dispensation” in its classical sense and not in the way that modern Dispensationalists use the term in light of C. I. Scofield’s teaching. Salvation has always been based on faith, never on works. If on works, then Cain’s sacrifice would have been acceptable before God. It was not on the grounds that Cain offered to God a form of worship that was not based on faith; whereas, his brother Abel did. True some the circumstances were different—sacrifice of animals vs. sacrifice of the God-Man Jesus—but the object, the Lord God, was the same. “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jonah 2.9); always has, always will.

2 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

3 Ray R. Sutton, That You May Proper: Dominion by Covenant, 3rd Printing (Tyler, TX: Institute of Christian Economics, [1987], 1997).

4 For the individual who would like to point out that Judas Iscariot was not baptized, I only turn them to John 13:1-11 where Jesus “cleans” them before the meal. Baptism is a sign of regenerational cleansing that has supposedly taken place in the heart of the one who professes faith in Christ. All of the disciples that night professed faith in the Lord, and yet Jesus points out one of them are a devil (cf. John 6.70; 13.2).